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Kuna considers resurrecting urban renewal district

photo of downtown kuna

Although Kuna revitalized its downtown, it hasn’t generated the business city officials had hoped. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

In an effort to improve its infrastructure to attract business, Kuna is looking at a number of mechanisms to raise funding, including resurrecting an urban renewal agency.

Kuna set up the urban renewal agency in 2011 in response to bills from the Idaho Legislature to limit cities’ abilities to create such agencies, but didn’t really do anything with it.

Now, the burgeoning city – which has gone from a population of 500 in the early 1970s to more than 20,000 today – is looking for ways to fund infrastructure improvements, and an urban renewal district is one tool on the table.

photo of brian buban-vonderhaar

Briana Buban-VonderHaar. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

On June 5, the city held a meeting to discuss options. Nothing’s likely to get implemented before next year, said Briana Buban-VonderHaar, city council president, but Kuna wanted to at least start talking about it.

“We’re seeing what options exist,” she said.

photo of brad marshall

Brad Marshall. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

A number of Idaho cities have used urban renewal to raise funding for infrastructure needs such as roads to attract business. In addition to larger cities such as Boise, Nampa and Twin Falls, they also include cities closer to Kuna’s size such as Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls, said Brad Marshall, a planner with J-U-B Engineers, in Coeur d’Alene.

photo of lisa bachman.

Lisa Bachman. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

Other options include a community infrastructure district, a sales tax anticipated revenue (STAR) district and a business improvement district, said Lisa Bachman, a planner with J-U-B. However, some of those options are limited. For example, a STAR – which has been used in Post Falls and is being used in Meridian – allows a commercial business to pay to improve roads, then the state reimburses the business. It can only be used for transportation.

Urban renewal districts, which were intended to help cities deal with “blight,” have their issues as well. Historically, they have been used to bulldoze vast expanses of a city for new construction that displaces existing residents. More recently, they have been used with more finesse, as economic development projects. But some legislators feel that such projects fall outside the purview of urban renewal and have been passing bills to limit cities’ ability to set up and use urban renewal agencies.

Urban renewal districts make money through tax increment financing or revenue allocation. The district doesn’t raise taxes, but the tax yield on any growth in the defined district would go to the urban renewal agency to pay for projects that are developed in that area. Critics say that means other citizens and businesses have to pick up the slack to provide services such as police and fire protection for the district.

Exactly what Kuna would do with the money is another question. Kuna recently invested more than $1 million in a downtown revitalization program to improve streets and sidewalks in its historic downtown. About half the money came from a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). The city recently received another $500,000 in CDBG funding to improve the infrastructure in another section of downtown.

So far, that investment hasn’t created the buzz city officials had hoped, but further infrastructure improvements might help, such as by encouraging downtown businesses to fix up their facades, Buban-VonderHaar said.

Another option is an overpass over the railroad track, which cuts through the town and can stop traffic for up to 45 minutes. But until there is more commercial activity to attract residents north of the tracks, that’s likely to affect primarily the residents on the south side, said Buban-VonderHaar.

photo of lisa holland

Lisa Holland. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

On the other hand, the track itself is an economic tool because it is on the main line and could support spur lines, said Lisa Holland, economic development director. Kuna’s industrial park is also located south of the tracks.

“Connecting north to south would be great for us long-term,” she said.

About Sharon Fisher